Songwriting Tips, News & More

What Is A Music Publishing Deal?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: What Is A Music Publishing Deal?
by Wallace Collins, Esq

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What Is A Music Publishing Deal? - and Do I Really Need One?
    The term "publishing", most simply, means the business of song copyrights.  A songwriter owns 100% of his song copyright and all the related publishing rights until the writer signs those rights away. Under the law, copyright (literally, the right to make and sell copies) automatically vests in the author or creator the moment the expression of an idea is "fixed in a tangible medium." (i.e., the moment it is written down or recorded on tape.)  With respect to recorded music, there are really two copyrights: a copyright in the musical composition owned by the songwriter and a copyright in the sound of the recording owned by the recording artist (but usually transferred to the record company when a record deal is signed).

     A writer owns the copyright in his work the moment he writes it down or records it, and by law can only transfer those rights by signing a written agreement to transfer them. Therefore, a songwriter must be wary of any agreement he or she is asked to sign. Although it is not necessary, it is advisable to place a notice of copyright on all copies of the work. This consists of the symbol "c" or the word "copyright", the author's name, and the year in which the work was created, for example: " (c) John Doe 2014."

     The filing of a copyright registration form in Washington D.C. gives additional protection in so far as it establishes a record of the existence of such copyright and gives the creator the presumption of validity in the event of a lawsuit. Registration also allows for lawsuits to be commenced in Federal court and, under Federal law, allows an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party.  To order forms and for additional information on copyright registration call (202) 707-9100 or go to www.loc.gov\copyrights. These days a songwriter can even register on line.

     As defined by the copyright law, the word "publish" most simply means "distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending". As a practical matter, music publishing consists primarily of all administrative duties, exploitation of copyrights, and collection of monies generated from the exploitation of those copyrights. If a writer makes a publishing deal and a publisher takes on these responsibilities then it "administers" the compositions. Administrative duties range from filing all the necessary registrations (i.e., copyright forms) to answering inquiries regarding the musical compositions.

     One important function of a music publisher is exploitation of a composition or "plugging" a song. Exploitation simply means seeking out different uses for musical compositions. Sometimes a music publisher will have professional quality demos prepared and send them to artists and producers to try to secure recordings. They also use these tapes to secure usage in the television, film and advertising industries.

     Equally important as exploitation is the collection of monies earned by these musical usages. Particularly in in the digital age, when transactions amount to billions and payments to fractions of pennies, the administration of song copyrights and the collection of revenues can be a complicated and massive undertaking. There are two primary sources of income for a music publisher: earnings that come from record sales (i.e., mechanical royalties from both physical and digital copies) and revenues that come from broadcast performances (i.e., performance royalties).  Mechanical royalties are collected directly from the record companies and paid to the publisher. Performance royalties are collected by performing rights organizations (e.g., ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States and different entities in each other country) and then distributed proportionably to the publisher and to the songwriter. In addition to plugging and administrative functions, it is also important to know that there is a creative side to music publishing. Since producing hit songs is in the best interest of both the writer and the publisher, good music publishers have whole departments devoted to helping writers grow and develop. The creative staff finds and signs new writers, works with them to improve their songs, pairs them up creatively with co-writers and hopes the outcome will be hit records.

     A publishing deal concerns rights and revenues. If a writer decides to do a publishing deal then the main issue for negotiation is going to be the language pertaining to the calculation and division of the rights in the copyright and division of the monies earned. In the old days, most deals were 100% copyright to the publisher and 50/50 share of the revenues because there was a concept that the "writer's share" was 50% and the "publisher's share" was 50%. This, of course, was an invention of the publishers. Legally, these terms have no such inherent meaning but their calculation is defined in each individual agreement. Most modern publishing deals, however, are referred to as "co-publishing" deals where the copyrights are co-owned 50/50 and the monies are usually calculated at around 75/25 meaning the writer gets 100% of the 50% writer's share and 50% of the publisher's 50% share for a total of 75%. It is best for the writer to insist that all calculations be made "at source" so that there are not too many charges and fees deducted off-the-top before the 75% calculation is made. Keep in mind, however, that the advance paid to the writer by the publisher is later recouped by the publisher out of the writer's share of income from the song. So, the net business effect is that the publisher pays the writer with the writer's own money to buy a share of the copyright (and the right to future income) from the writer.

     Although a writer can be his own publisher and retain 100% of the money, the larger publishers in the music business usually pay substantial advance payments to writers in order to induce them to sign a portion of their publishing rights to the publisher - and this can be a good thing for the writer. Although a deal for a single song may be done with little or no advance payment (provided there is a reversion of the song to the writer if no recording is released within a year or two), there should be a substantial advance paid ($5,000-$100,000+) to a writer for any publishing deal with a longer term (e.g., 3-5 years or more). Moreover, sometimes the length of an agreement is more than just a function of time, it might also be determined based on the number of songs delivered by the writer or, even more difficult to calculate, based on the number of songs that get recorded and released on a major label (something neither the writer nor the publisher may have any control over).

     Publishing deals have to do with more than just the money though. Since every music publisher is different, it is important for the songwriter to assess both the business and the creative sides of a music publisher before signing any deal. Ultimately, the songwriter is trading a share of something the writer already owns 100% of (the copyright) so it is important to be mindful of what it is exchanged for by way of services and money.


Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Music Publishing Deal

Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much
 

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This book excerpt explores the challenge of properly communicating feelings and emotions with listeners through one's lyrics, and looks at how a songwriter can structure their work in such a way as to clearly get their intended message across without excessive exposition.

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Guest Post excerpted from the newly released e-book Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics

Don’t Explain Too Much

tricky situation:

In order to communicate a feeling, you could take the quickest path and just tell listeners what you’re feeling, but that usually doesn’t create the best results. 

Key Word: PORTRAY

One result of merely telling the listeners what you’re feeling is that your story won’t leave anything open to their imagination. You’re placing the listeners off to the side of your lyric, since you’re not inviting them in to think for themselves, draw their own conclusions and read between the lines. Try not to tell so much — open the lyric up to people’s interpretations by portraying emotions instead.

Consider this:

There are two important ways to portray: 1) Portray by using imagery: Instead of saying I’m so in love with you Shawn Colvin says ”I never saw blue like that before, across the sky, around the world” in her song Never Saw Blue Like That. 2) Portray by letting something happen as a consequence of the emotion. Let’s say that you want to convey how much someone is missing someone else. Missing someone who has just died. Someone who has committed suicide by jumping of a bridge, to be more precise. Like in Bobby Gentry’s song Ode To Billie Joe (1967). In the end of the song you could let the main character (a girl) explain how much she misses, and longs for, the person that no longer exist. Another, and much more efficient, way of letting us understand, and drawing us into the story, is to portray her feelings by letting her do something:

“And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,

and drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

–  excerpt from “Ode To Bille Joe” by Bobby Gentry

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line
by Harriet Schock


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There’s a line between art and commerce and for some people, it’s wide enough to walk. Finding a way to do it is an art in itself.

I know some of the best songwriters walking the earth but you might not know their names. That doesn’t mean they’re not great. And I know some really successful ones who are also exceptionally good. Today, even in a city as known for songs as Nashville, there’s a feeling that “formula” is taking over. And the pervading attitude is that merit doesn’t necessarily accompany success, and certainly vice versa.

When I was in Nashville one of my meetings was with a former promoter from the record label I recorded three albums for in the seventies, in L.A. He’s been very successful in Music City since then and when I recorded my last two CDs, I sent them to him. When he heard the newer songs, he announced that he was still a fan. This was my opening to ask him a question I didn’t dare ask the strangers I’d been meeting with all week. “Could co-writing here actually hurt my writing?” He gave me a candid “yes.” I thought about it long and hard. I took “could” to mean if I wrote with the wrong attitude, it “could” harm me but I would make sure that didn’t happen. Some of the greatest songwriting I’ve ever heard is coming out of Nashville, in my opinion. So I decided to adopt the attitude that I could learn from anyone or anything I admire. But I wouldn’t let it dilute the style I’d become known for in my own writing. I had found another thin line to walk.

My first writing session was with someone who also teaches songwriting and that was really fascinating. It was like speaking “shorthand.” I just sat in the library where we’d found an available grand piano and played endlessly to a drum track until we found a melody for the chorus. We discussed the lyric direction and he wrote the lyric to the verse with my minimal participation. I took the tape home and wrote the verse melody which I sent him.

This particular collaborator also helped me learn some of the unwritten rules of Nashville collaboration: The B writer (the one with fewer hits) brings the concept to the A writer (the one with more hits).

Therefore, in my next songwriting session, I brought the concept. I had no sooner said the last syllable of the title than my new co-writer had the guitar up, playing and singing a melody that made me feel totally at home and enraptured. I began to realize the reason this multi-hit-writer was so successful was that he’s really good. Melody and harmony fell out of this playful creature like a fountain overflowing.

This brings to mind another kind of thin line, one mentioned by Irving Berlin, who spoke of the thin line between familiarity and plagiarism. Berlin walked this line deftly and attributed his success to it, and my collaborator was walking it like a trained gymnast. When I heard the melody and chord changes, it was nothing I’d heard before and yet it felt completely familiar. Every note went where I wanted it to, like when someone finds that place on your back that itches.

Another interesting line I encountered that trip was between hanging out and becoming a drinker. I noticed a lot of networking going on at songwriters’ hangouts, which happen to be bars in many cases. I don’t know how they spend day after day there without liver damage, but the “whiskey flows and the beer chases their blues away.” And since I was drinking water and trying to say in “The Zone,” it didn’t have much effect on me except as an observer. I understand legal sobriety is now determined by Breathalyzer tests, for which I understand Listerine can cause a false positive. So it’s not easy to find where demarcation is sometimes. But I still try to walk the line. All of them.

 


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations
by Wallace Collins, Esq

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Under the US copyright law, an author or creator owns a copyright in his or her work the moment it is “fixed in a tangible medium” (i.e., the moment the expression of an idea is written down or recorded in some manner). When it comes to the recorded music business there are two primary copyrights of interest: one in the musical composition or song; another in the sound recording of that song. A copyright extends for the life of an author plus 70 years, and in the case of collaborators on a copyright it extends for the life of the last surviving collaborator plus 70 years.

This article will focus on the collaboration between and among the co-writers of the musical composition or song which is generally comprised of the music (e.g., melody, harmony, chords, rhythm, etc.) and the lyrics (i.e., the words). The essence of collaboration is working together to create a single work regardless of how or what each party contributes. Collaborators may work together in the same room at the same time, or not. The creative contribution of each co-author may be equal in quality or quantity, or not. Both authors may work together on the music and lyrics or one might write just music and the other lyrics. The long history of collaboration has shown that there are endless combinations. Co-authors do not need to have a written agreement concerning their joint work, but it is probably a good idea to do so given the myriad issues that can arise and become a problem under such circumstances.

             Co-writers can divide copyright ownership in whatever proportion they determine, and that ownership concerns both rights (ownership and control) and revenues (income generated). In the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro rata basis. This might be so even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright and simply divide it by the number of authors (and we probably prefer that Courts not be making decisions about whether the hook or chorus lyric has more or less value than the chorus melody, etc.). Therefore, without a written agreement two songwriters would be deemed to own the song fifty-fifty, three songwriters one-third each, etc. A typical music business guideline for dividing ownership has been to designate the music as 50% and the lyric 50% of the song copyright. Under this scenario, if one person creates the music and two others write the lyrics, they may agree to divide the ownership 50% to the music creator and 25% to each of the lyricists. However, this concept does not have any legal significance so if there is no written collaboration agreement then under this scenario each author would own 1/3rd of the song copyright.

             Beyond the issue of just dividing the income there arises the issue of copyright ownership and control (sometimes referred to as the administration right). Many songwriters prefer that there be separate administration among the various writers and their respective publishing companies, if any. In other words, each author retains control over its respective share of the copyright. In this way each writer retains some control over what happens with the song, the scope of the licenses and how much is charged. Under US copyright law, each joint copyright owner can exploit the song and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties subject to the duty to account to the co-writers for any money that is generated. Each writer could also transfer some or all of their respective share of the copyright (e.g., to a publishing company) without affecting the ownership interests of the any other co-writer’s share in the copyright (although no one writer can grant an exclusive license nor transfer copyright ownership in the entire song without the written permission of each co-writer).

             All of these issues can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. There are endless variations depending on the circumstances. Each author may retain his or her share of revenues and ownership but grant the administration rights to one party (e.g., the artist/co-writer and/or its label) so that the artist would have the right to record and exploit the song and grant third party licenses. Particularly in the world of synchronization licenses (i.e., using the audio with visual images such as in film, television or video games), it is usually more convenient for one party to have the right to grant licenses and to collect and divide all the income. Licensing can become complicated when a licensee has to seek the approval of, and document permission from, multiple writers and their respective publishers. However, each different scenario and the co-writers involved will need to determine and negotiate what arrangement works best for themselves in that particular situation.

             A collaboration agreement can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin at the dinner after the writing session or as complicated as a writer’s publishing company dictates that it be. Over the years there have been many stories of writers agreeing, however reluctantly, to acknowledge a “co-writer” who did not even make a contribution to a song (e.g., featured artists, producers, record executives, band members, etc.). The exact contribution to a song is always a somewhat subjective measurement and if the price of getting a song on the record of a multi-platinum artist is to share writing credit then this pressure can be difficult, if not impossible, to resist. However, keep in mind that once a “co-writer” is acknowledged in writing it can be very difficult to undo. Most successful songwriters rarely, if ever, share credit in this context and every writer should try to follow this practice.

            At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation - all the successful songwriters do. Your lawyer can create a fair collaboration agreement for you to use or “translate” the documentation presented to you and explain its terms and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your entertainment lawyer review it first.

[Article used by permission from Wallace Collins]

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs